Ben Ainslie's Land Rover BAR were trounced day by the French team thought to be the weakest of the challengers, and Emirates Team New Zealand win a controversial penalty over angry Artemis Racing
In two surprising and dramatic turnarounds today in the America’s Cup qualifiers, Groupama Team France trounced Ben Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR in an intense first race of the day, and a dramatic and controversial protest ended chances of a win for Artemis Racing against Emirates Team New Zealand.
In windier conditions of 14-17 knots, gusting 20, racing was fast and intense, with generally more stable flight on teams’ medium daggerboards. All races saw numerous lead changes, heart-stopping mach-speed crosses and match race tactics.
The first shock result of the day was the vastly improved performance of the French team. Rewrite all the odds, because Groupama Team France, which had seemed to struggle to achieve stable foiling flight at the start of this series, crushed Land Rover BAR today despite trailing them off the start.
They inflicted the damage as Land Rover BAR splashed down at the leeward mark, allowing the French team to sail fast round the outside. It was followed shortly afterwards by a slow tack by the British.
As the boat sank off foils, you could hear a loud, frustrated groan from on board. In their lengthy, slow recovery to flight, Land Rover BAR bled hundreds of metres to the French.
For those critical few seconds they were over 20 knots slower than Groupama Team France, who steadily built up an unassailable lead to finish 53 seconds ahead – in America’s Cup racing now, that makes a dot in the rear view mirror.
More drama was to come in the next race between Artemis Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand. The two were at warp speed, especially the Swedish team, which at times was shooting along the upwind leg several knots quicker than the Kiwis. In a few short legs there were nine lead changes – this was as good a yacht race as you’ll ever see.
However, it finished with angry words and controversy after a protest won by the New Zealand team after a port and starboard at the final leeward mark. It appeared Artemis Racing sailed round the outside to shoot ahead. But Peter Burling on Emirates Team New Zealand protested, saying that: “I was turning the boat away as hard as I could.”
A penalty was awarded against the Swedish team for not giving the Kiwis room to round.
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The crew of Artemis could not believe it “No way! No way!” we heard someone on board exclaim – Iain Percy maybe? And then: “They were not crossing! That is completely rubbish, completely weak.” Plus a few choice words from the salty sailors’ dictionary.
Slowing for the penalty cost them their lead. There’s no appeal. Another win to New Zealand.
With the previous race win going to Groupama Team France, Artemis Racing are now under a lot of pressure, tying with SoftBank Team Japan and Groupama at the bottom half of the points table. This could potentially be a very costly ruling for a team considered only a week ago to be a favourite.
In the final race of today, SoftBank Team Japan had a very solid win over Groupama Team France, leading from the start and punishing them by winning with a huge 2m 34s win.
Costly mistakes on Land Rover BAR?
Back to Land Rover BAR: there was no evidence of a speed problem, nor was there any of the ‘overflight’ issues we saw signs of yesterday causing them to rise too high on foils and then dive like a submarine (perhaps the cause of the crash on day one?), but we are at a stage where a non-foiling tack or gybe can cost a race.
Land Rover BAR will make it through the round robins courtesy of their two points from the World Series, but now they have the poorest record so far: one win in five races. To be fair, they have been a bit unlucky and really they deserve better. But they are going to have to find a way to make manoeuvres more consistent.
Though Ben Ainslie said no changes have been made to Land Rover BAR since the crash, many teams will have design changes and tweaks going on behind closed doors during the series and are in a race to perfect them. This is like Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier while simultaneously trying to win a dogfight.
So, all in all, today’s racing was fast and intense, an hour-and-a-half of edge-of-the seat performances. Once again this format had it all: lead changes, match race manoeuvres, tight port and starboard crosses, protest flags. Only a few days in, and the fastest America’s Cup in history is every bit as varied, exciting and unpredictable as it’s ever been.